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Doctor Who, 'Spyfall, Part 1': A very, very welcome return
Our female Doctor goes female Bond and all this female can say is, double-oh-hell-yes.
This post contains spoilers for the Doctor Who Season 12 premiere, "Spyfall," and trust me they're BIG ONES.
Our lady of perpetual cropped pants is back, fam in tow, and there's a mystery. An alien mystery. So alien and mysterious that the head of MI6, C (Stephen Fry), needs the Doctor to help figure out why spies are being targeted and essentially killed, their DNA being completely rewritten to the point of being just a shell that resembles a person. Don't get too excited about Fry's presence — it's brief to say the least, going full Janet Leigh and getting assassinated minutes into his much-hyped appearance — but he does get in a few delightful moments, like pointing out that — per the file — the Doctor is a man.
Realizing whatever being or beings they're dealing with are outside of their abilities and experience — as well as that of both the TARDIS and the Sonic — the Doctor, Yaz (Mandip Gill), Ryan (Tosin Cole), and Graham (Bradley Walsh) embark on two missions: the Doc and Graham heading off to Australia in search of O, an MI6 friend of the Doctor's (well, she met him once and he seemed like a decent guy and also they text sometimes, and also, the episode cannot stress this enough, when it comes to the spy game, never trust anyone), while Yaz and Ryan go undercover to find Daniel Barton (Lenny Henry, our favorite non-canonical Seventh Doctor, who gives us seriously powerful Bond villain vibes in this role), a former MI6 agent turned Google-esque tech god who was being investigated by the assassinated agents.
O (Sacha Dhawan), a nerdy analyst rather than your standard Bond-style agent, invites the Doctor and Graham into his home filled with research on the alien and inexplicable, including a whole section on the Doctor herself, giving him a giddy fanboy sensibility that — spoiler again — becomes incredibly unsettling after the end of the episode.
But before we get to all that, back to Yaz and Ryan. The two pose as a journalist and photographer — in true form, Yaz is a natural and Ryan, our sweet cinnamon roll, can't even remember to remove the lens cap. The two discover Barton has some involvement with the beings who assassinated the agents, a series of bright, white silhouettes, at least one potentially wearing a jaunty chapeau. Yaz gets too close and gets absorbed into the light and cast into a forest of wires, then explodes, then ends up in Australia with the Doctor and O.
The fam back together, the Doctor finds out that Barton's organization has alien code, revealing alien spies all over the world — but who is in charge, Barton or the aliens?
There's only one way to find out: get fancy and attend Barton's conveniently casino-themed birthday party at his palatial Northern California estate. Stealth mode is short-lived; Barton is not only onto Yaz and Ryan, but the Doctor lays all her cards on the table (and not just playing Snap at the poker table again) and tells him what they know about him. Barton flees, the fam follows, and we get a fabulous plane chase wherein our heroes climb aboard a moving airplane.
The episode could have ended there and been a fun first part of a delightful one-off special kicking off a new season. It doesn't. All is not as it appears.
Trust. No one.
O is not O at all. O is our best frenemy the Master, back again, and deliciously unhinged and keeping a tiny real-life O in his pocket, I think? It's not terribly clear. It doesn't matter, it's amazing. Chris Chibnall, if you can hear me, please keep Dhawan in this role and don't pull a Derek Jacobi. As this iteration of the Master, Dhawan mixes John Simm's screaming wickedness with Michelle Gomez's delectably demented intensity. With a few final chilling words ("Everything that you think you know is a lie"), he disappears and the Doctor is sent to the wires by the white alien beings while the rest of our fam plummet as the plane crashes.
"Spyfall" is a delightful return to Doctor Who and sets up the major thing last season lacked: a solid season-long arc and Big Bad, something that for the other series of NewWho was an enjoyable throughline, even when it petered out with not a bang but a whimper (oh Clara, you deserved better).
She's back, she's Bond, and we are ready for it. Let's get a shift on.